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Bridging the Digital Divide by Ensuring Broadband on Indian Tribal Lands

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 2, Session 1

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.

The first of three panel discussions during the joint meeting of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service March 17 focused on the state of “vulnerable populations” within the United States, the need to drive demand for broadband, and the role of strategic institutions.

Jeff Sandstrom of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development said his state had witnessed an unprecedented population explosion in the context of “a large percentage of federally-owned land than any other state in the nation.”

A majority of the rural Nevadas have yet to access broadband, said Sandstrom, even though fiber networks laid down during the “.com” boom of the 1990s had provided that technological hope.

“The debate we are having here is one of access, not shortage or need or applications,” he said.

Finding ways to extend broadband would play a major role in Nevada’s “economic revolution,” Sandstrom said, particularly with the state’s focus on solar and geothermal power.Additionally, Nevada’s wildlife, agriculture, e-learning, telemedicine and business communities would benefit from better broadband, he said.

“The residents of Nevada would have a just access to a quality of life,” he said.

The Nevada Rural Housing Authority’s Gary Longacre decried the disparity of access to broadband between Nevada’s tribal areas and the rest of the country.

“Many of the communities in such contexts are either unserved or underserved,” he said. It is “too expensive to build the last mile.”

But rural and tribal communities still need broadband to access essential services.

Karen Twenhafel of Telecom Consulting Service, representing the National Tribal Telecommunication Association, said the stimulus funding for broadband was “extending an expensive opportunity.”

Eight American tribes, she said, already have their own telephone companies and continue to pursue “self-provision of communication services.”

Others among the Indian tribal lands – at least 29 percent, she said – still do not have access to broadband technology. “For 4.3 million Americans, this type of participation is simply not available.”

Seventy-five years after the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, there is still no formal tracking of telecommunications conditions, she said.

“In spending the broadband stimulus, priority ought to be given to service areas where the penetration rate of those service areas are below 15% or below of the national average of those services,” she said. Tribal lands should be designated as “separate and exclusive service areas.”

“We can no longer have applications that serve surrounding lands, but not the tribal lands,” she said. She also said that tribal governments should be consulted throughout the process.

Valerie Fast Horse, council member and director of information technology for the Coeur d’Alene tribe, continued with panel’s concern for broadband for tribal communities. “The communications of this nation is only as strong as its weakest link.”

She said that tribal and rural areas had been left behind in communication development. What is needed now, she said, is infrastructure “with a long shelf-life” – referring to fiber-optic technology appropriate for delivering broadband into rural communities.

“True communication development cannot happen if we only focus on capitalizing infrastructure and equipment, while ignoring our human spirit,” she said.

Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, noted that 1, 200 miles of fiber had already been laid in Nevada, and that it could aid transition into more widespread broadband – and public spending on broadband deployment.

During the public comment session, several panelists agreed upon the need to carry out environmental impact assessments and to development new energy sources, as part of wider broadband deployment.

Also, computer pricing issues might have to be addressed in order to help drive public demand for broadband technology.

A member of the audience warned that inner-city communities must not be neglected in an effort to mitigate rural and tribal needs.

The validity of some U.S. Census Bureau data validity was questioned, too, with Twenhafel saying that “phone penetration data is normally below what is reported in census data.”

Several individuals at the meeting said that wireless technologies were an important component of meeting the needs of rural and tribal areas.

Funding

Senate Confirms Davidson as National Telecommunications and Information Administration Chief

Bipartisan vote confirms Davidson atop the Commerce Department agency. It has a large pile of money to spend on broadband.

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Newly-confirmed head of the NTIA Alan Davidson

WASHINGTON, January 11, 2022 ­– In a bipartisan vote of 60-31, the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration: Alan Davidson.

Davidson, a former public policy director at Google, will become the first Senate-confirmed head of the NTIA since mid-2019.

Several members of Republican leadership voted against Davidson’s nomination Tuesday afternoon, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Whip John Thune, R-S.D., as did Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who had both been recorded as opposed to advancing Davidson’s nomination out of committee.

As the new head of the agency tasked with advising the president on telecommunications and information policy issues, Davidson will be responsible for overseeing the distribution of billions of dollars in broadband funding across the nation made available by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

On Friday, the agency released its request for public comment on the act.

Early reactions from industry groups to Davidson’s confirmation were positive, with the NCTA, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions and Public Knowledge all praising the Senate’s approval.

In light of the funding the NTIA must help distribute, organizations emphasized the magnitude of Davidson’s confirmation, with ATIS saying the agency’s mission has “never been more important” and Public Knowledge called the NTIA’s role as a “critical position at an important time.”

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also praised the vote, saying that in working with Davidson’s NTIA she is confident that the FCC “can make progress on delivering innovative, modern communications that reach everyone, everywhere.”

Public Knowledge also said in their statement that Davidson’s work on funding alone will not close the digital divide without a fully appointed FCC.

They advocated for the confirmation to the FCC of their organization’s co-founder and former CEO Gigi Sohn– whose nomination has recently stalled in the Senate and would break the 2-2 partisan deadlock at the agency upon confirmation.

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NTIA

NTIA Publishes Report Calling for Better Data Aggregation Methods

The report notes need for separating broadband access data from other consumer stats.

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Acting NTIA Administrator Evelyn Remaley

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021 – Year-end analysis by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration found that the agency is constrained in its data collection abilities by a lack of software that can separate broadband access data from other consumer statistics.

In its Access Broadband Report, released last Thursday, the agency proposed promoting consistent standards for data reporting that can separate this data from confounding variables and increasing data reporting requirements for entities it interacts with.

Additionally, significant lag times between broadband projects and intended outcomes was identified as an obstacle to the agency’s work, the report said.

The inaugural report, a produce of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, looks at agency accomplishments this year as well as investments in both federal broadband support programs and Universal Service Fund programs.

Specifically, the report focused on highlighting the achievements of the NTIA’s newly established Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth.

The report is consistent with ongoing NTIA efforts to improve broadband data availability, increase coordination between federal partners and be transparent about government spending.

Additionally, “the report summarizes the federal broadband investment landscape, details the current state of measuring investments and connection across federal broadband support and USF programs, and provides key recommendations to improve efforts to track broadband spending and outcomes,” including leveraging open data initiatives and identifying data sources and alternatives.

The NTIA is in the process of reviewing applications and making awards for three programs established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act: the Broadband Infrastructure Program focusing on rural connectivity, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

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FCC

Eighty Civil Society Groups Ask for Swift Confirmation of FCC, NTIA Nominees

The groups sent a letter emphasizing the need for internet access expansion ahead of Wednesday confirmation hearings.

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Photo of Alan Davidson from New America

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2021 – Eighty civil-society groups have penned a letter to Senate leadership requesting a swift confirmation process for President Joe Biden’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Groups representing interests spanning civil rights, media justice, community media, workers’ rights and consumer advocacy highlighted to Senate leadership the need for the agencies to shepherd internet access expansion on the heels of newly signed bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

Biden last month nominated Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner of the FCC, as well as Alan Davidson for director of the NTIA. Rosenworcel and Sohn’s confirmations would make a full slate of commissioners at the FCC, ending the potential for 2-2 deadlocks.

Key Senate Republicans have since expressed concern over the nomination of Sohn, citing her liberal views on communications policy.

Signees of the letter emphasized that an ongoing global pandemic and “worsening climate crisis” raise the stakes for FCC and NTIA action, and that connectivity access issues are even further exacerbated among poor families and people of color.

Organizations on the letter included the American Library Association, Color of Change, the Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA and the Mozilla Foundation, among others.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Rosenworcel on Wednesday.

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